Ann B Davis: Actress best known as the housekeeper in 'The Brady Bunch' who retired at 50 to pursue her Christian faith


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The Independent Online

Ann B Davis was an Emmy-winning actress who became America's favourite and most famous housekeeper as the devoted Alice Nelson of The Brady Bunch. More than a decade before that she was the razor-tongued secretary on another stalwart US sitcom, The Bob Cummings Show, which brought her two Emmys. She also appeared on Broadway and in occasional films but retired in 1976 after rediscovering her Christianity.

The Brady Bunch debuted in 1969 and aired for five years, then lived on in reruns and sequels. It returned as The Brady Bunch Hour (1977), The Brady Brides (1981) and The Bradys (1990). It even appeared as a Saturday morning spin-off between 1972 and 1974. The Brady Bunch Movie, with Shelley Long and Gary Cole as the parents, was a surprise box-office hit in 1995. It had another actress as Alice, but Davis appeared in a bit part as a trucker. It was followed the next year, without Davis, by the less successful A Very Brady Sequel.

As the original programme's theme song reminded viewers each week, the Bradys combined two families into one. Florence Henderson played a widow raising three daughters when she met her TV husband, Robert Reed, a widower with three boys. In her blue and white maid's uniform, Davis's character, Alice Nelson, was constantly cleaning up messes large and small, and she was a mainstay of stability for the family.

"I think I'm lovable. That's the gift God gave me," Davis said in 1993. "I don't do anything to be lovable. I have no control." Davis's face occupied the centre square during the opening credits. Her love interest was Sam the Butcher, played by Allan Melvin.

Older American viewers will remember Davis for another non-glamorous role, on The Bob Cummings Show, also known as Love That Bob. She played Schultzy, the assistant to Cummings' character, a handsome, swinging bachelor photographer always chasing beautiful women. It brought Davis supporting actress Emmy Awards in 1958 and 1959.

She was born Ann Bradford Davis in 1926, in Schenectady, New York, and grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. She said she took to using her middle initial because "just plain Ann Davis goes by pretty fast."

Bill Frey, a retired Episcopal bishop and a long-standing friend of Davis, said she died after suffering a fall at home. She had lived with him and his wife, Barbara, since 1976, when she sold her house in Los Angeles and became part of his and his wife's "household community" after re-embracing her Christian faith and leaving Hollywood behind.

"The public image of her that people have is an accurate image of a strong, wonderful, lively human being," he said. "The only part that's inaccurate about that is she had trouble relating to small children, and she doesn't cook."

Asked if the friend he called "Ann B" ever missed her life as an actor, he replied, "Not once."


Ann Bradford Davis, actress: born Schenectady, New York 5 May 1926; died San Antonio, Texas 1 June 2014.